Asian organization challenges Minneapolis city officials on public safety

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The Southeast Asian Community Council (SEACC) hosted its quarterly meeting on the topic of public safety last week, with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Interim Police Chief Tim Dolan and Fifth Ward City Council Member Donald Samuels.

Doua Lee, executive director, SEARCC, hosted the event, with about 40 community members present. Some of them were newly arrived Hmong that are staying at Mary’s Place shelter downtown. The leading topics were about the recent rash of violence and the recent deaths of two young Hmong men.

Chief Dolan said the investigation piece on the shooting death of Fong Lee, a suspected armed drug dealer who was chased by police onto a schoolyard, is wrapping up and that they will wait until funerals are conducted and then speak to the family and community leaders before going public with any new information.

Mayor Rybak called the murder of Toua Xiong, a pizza deliveryman shot by gang members, a “horrible loss for our community” and promised to do all that he can to ensure that justice is served. He was happy to report the arrest on Thursday of eight gang members that are responsible for a large portion of the violent crimes in the area.

“We are going to continue to focus on those who commit the violence so that they are taken off the street,” said Rybak.

The mayor was challenged by Dai Thao, a member of the Hmong Advocacy Coalition. Thao vented his frustration at all three leaders about the loss of trust and faith in police and the city for what he called the unnecessary use of deadly force used in the apprehension of Fong Lee.

Chief Dolan said the rise of violent crime in the city is alarming. He said that although 1996 was the peak in high crime rate, with 96 homicides, the 41 homicides this year is a major concern. He said the difference this year is that other Part I Capital Offenses, such as robberies, burglary, arson, assault and sexual assault, theft, and auto thefts are not increasing citywide.

“The majority of the city is doing very well, and we are not seeing high crime numbers,” said Dolan, who credited everything from fewer vacant buildings to technology.

“Chicago has a very big network camera system and that is ideally where we would like to eventually get to,” said Dolan. The camera systems are already installed on downtown corners, and they are planned for Riverside, West Broadway, Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue South.

Both Dolan and the mayor said the number of police planned for the budget would bring in 40 new officers this year. They plan to add 70 to 80 officers next year. Thirty of them will be returning attrition officers, and 40 new officers.

“If my proposed budget passes we will have 100 new officers between this year and next,” said Rybak.

The new officers will mean an added presence in high crime areas. There will be added investigators to handle more cases. There will also be more specialty officers to handle areas such as gang enforcement and other identified trend issues.

“I think the big key is that as we add more officers, we will put more officers in these areas and build the agency back up,” said Dolan.

Dolan encourage the community to look to groups like SEACC for information. The police often begin their outreach efforts through community-based groups. He encouraged these organizations to work with newcomers that have a different view of society and police from their experience, which is often unrealistic in this setting.

With more Asian American and Hmong officers, part of their duty will be community outreach and to teach the yellow card system as a good way to signal to an officer that an interpreter is needed.

“We will continue to work to expand the interpretive services that we have,” he said. “The officers have cell phones with access to an interpretative line.”

Recent police academy candidates have been about half people of color. There are several Asian American officer candidates and at least two Hmong. The police and city have established tuition programs for Twin Cities young men and women pursuing law enforcement careers. “We need more Hmong and Asian officers,” said Dolan.

Officer Chad Hofius said that MPD Recruitment teams are using websites, videos and literature, along with visiting community centers and school campuses to bring in more diversity. Hofius was present with Lt. Arradondo M. Medaria, Officer Phil R. Xiong and Officer Kou Vang.

Dolan agreed to Jordan Park Elementary School Principal Chai Lee’s request for police, especially Hmong officers, to come into the schools. They will explore the idea of presentations and even ride-a-longs for the teens.

“We need to interact in different environments and we need kids to see fellow Asian officers in uniform,” said Dolan. “That means a lot to them.”

Mayor Rybak said that focusing on the next generation of youth would do more for crime prevention that police and jails. The city has helped fund high school centers in every school to help kids decide on their future. He encouraged all youth in grades 9 to 12, to visit their career center during the first month of school and talk to the guidance counselors.

The mayor spoke about the Step Up summer jobs program, which helped about 550 Hmong youth, one-third of the entire program, find mentored work positions in city jobs. He also mentioned The Power of You program to help pay for college.

“We are working very hard to ensure every kid in high school can get where they want to go,” said Rybak.

Council Members Samuels said that his priority is for the safety of the community. He understands the conditions where people fear police and how it takes a while for newcomers to feel they have rights and can demand a voice, service or even justice.

Samuels said that his role is to reach out to the community. The community’s role is to reach out to the city and the police department. He said that if you do not feel safe, then the first thing to do is reach out to the police and if the circumstances keep you unsafe, then next thing is to call him, as vice chair of the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee, and as the founder of the Public Engagement and Community Empowerment (PEACE) Foundation.

Samuels has helped to get state funding for the Workforce Center to fund youth employment programs and said community organizations and businesses are invited to submit plans. There is also funding for gang prevention programs that focus on life skills activities.

Samuels is making an email list to let organizations know about his work as it is happening. He invited people to join the list by sending him contact information at Don.Samuels@ci.minneapolis.mn.us.

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